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The changing face of New York's neighborhoods.

New York 1960, New York 2000 - a much different city 40 years later, both in attitude and demeanor. Sure, the old tourist postcards are still accurate. The Empire State Building is still standing, even though it's no longer the tallest building in town. Times Square is still the centerpiece its always been, but a more mainstream place these days, with enough neon signs to give the Las Vegas "Strip" a run for its money. SoHo's cast-iron buildings have been preserved, but everything else in the area has changed, particularly the chicness that exudes through the windows of the high fashion boutiques.

A photograph of Lower Manhattan 40 years ago surely did not include Battery Park City. In fact, the whole place was created out of landfill.

As for Times Square, Broadway plays and musicals are still a major tourist attraction, but they now complete with music stores, television studios and theme restaurants for the tourist dollar. With crime down sharply, the streets are once again filled with nice people, not hookers, at all hours of the day and night. The so-called Disneyfication of 42nd Street began in 1998 with the company's renovation of the New Amsterdam Theater and clearly the sell-out crowds at "The Lion King" have played a big role in attracting other media companies to the area from all over the world. Dilapidated buildings were torn down and replaced by mixed-use retail and entertainment projects like E-Walk. And state-of-the-art office buildings were leased to prestigious investment banking and media companies before they were even built. To top it off, a host of new luxury apartment buildings have been built and continue to be built throughout the far West Side of Midtown.

The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is almost 40 years old now, but its presence still dominates this part of the Upper West Side. The former Gulf & Western building (now Trump International at Broadway and 59th Street) and a slew of high-rise residential towers followed on the heels of the Center's opening. In the late 1970's, new restaurants sprung up on nearby Columbus Avenue, significantly increasing the profile of the neighborhood. By the early 1980's, national retailers saw the light, although by that time they were the only ones who could afford the rents. The next chapter of Lincoln Center's growth in the 1990's was fueled by Millennium Partner's three mixed-use retail and residential towers. A Loews ten-plex cinema, Barnes & Noble, Tower Records, The Gap and Pottery Barn will be joined soon by Balducci's and Victoria's Secret.

Moving downtown, Union Square's transformation from a discount hub to a desirable retail and residential area began with a bang in the mid-1980's with the demolition of the old S. Klein's department store on Union Square East between 14th and 15th streets. Two years later, Zeckendorf Towers, a luxury condominium, went up on the site. Later on, a hugely successful greenmarket opened on the edge of a rebuilt and cleaned-up Union Square Park, and a long-abandoned building on the square at 17th Street was renovated into a Barnes & Noble superstore.

The surrounding area's profile was highlighted by an influx of advertising agencies and creative firms heading to the Flatiron and Park Avenue South corridors. Restaurants such as the Union Square Cafe, America and Coffee Shop put the neighborhood on the map for good, while on Fifth Avenue, upscale apparel retailers slowly but surely eased out the banks and novelty stores of yesteryear.

Barneys deserves much of the credit for transforming Chelsea from a sleepy commercial and residential enclave back in the 1960's to a lively district resonating with hipness. Art galleries migrated from 57th Street and SoHo to the far west reaches of Chelsea. Chelsea Piers, the giant sports complex, opened on the West Side waterfront, and low and behold, people came. Restaurants now flourish from Eighth to Tenth avenues. But it was Barneys that was the original magnet for attracting shoppers to the neighborhood. In the 1990's, more of them made their way to "Ladies Mile" (otherwise known as Sixth Avenue), as the "big box" generation continues to thrive.

The "twin towers" of the World Trade Center were the world's tallest buildings when they were built in the early 1970's. Their presence influenced future residential and commercial development at nearby Battery Park City and at the World Financial Center. In time, many of the loft buildings to the northeast were converted to residential use. The acronym "Tribeca" gave definition to the triangle below Canal Street, and in short order, restaurateurs discovered the area's relatively inexpensive rents (then) and expansive spaces.

The late 1990's marked the resurgence of one of New York's most historic of neighborhoods - Harlem. The area, once synonymous with African-American culture, is today undergoing a renaissance that has brought mainstream national retailers to the neighborhood for the first time. Fairway, a local supermarket operator, tapped into the area by opening a large, fun-to-shop-in supermarket on 130th Street and 12th Avenue. The Empowerment Zone and the booming local economy has played a major role in the development of Harlem, evidenced by Harlem USA, the 275,000 square-foot retail development being built on 125th Street for tenants such as Disney, Old Navy and a Magic Johnson multiplex cinema.

As we move into the year 2000, many of Manhattan's oldest neighborhoods have gone back to their roots. Although e-commerce may have replaced the pushcart, thankfully our neighborhoods have been restored and invigorated by a renaissance that still leaves their very essence intact.
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Author:Fox, Benjamin
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Jan 26, 2000
Words:913
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